July 09, 2012
Smoothbore Shotgun Slugs: Then and Now
By Phil Bourjaily
Last week coachsjke asked why I never write about slugs. Actually I have written about slugs often in the magazine*, but not so much in this space. So, we’ll discuss fullbore slugs out of smoothbore barrels for now and leave sabots for some other time.
I started out deer hunting as a participant in deer drives with our farmer neighbors in the days before rifled shotguns. We would divide up into drivers and blockers/shooters. Because my gun was one of the few in our group that had sights I was often a designated shooter and would fill my Auto 5 with old-style foster slugs. I took lots of shots at standing, walking and running deer, including shots I would not dream of taking today. I never lost a deer I hit, and a .729” hole in one side and out the other usually leaves a blood trail that is short and very easy to follow. Fullbore slugs back then had their drawbacks (recoil, poor accuracy, looping trajectory), but lethality was not one of them.
Slugs are better now. To 75 yards they have become extremely accurate. My current favorite is Brenneke’s K.O. , which has an attached plastic wad that works like the tail of a badminton bird to keep the the slug flying straight. Stores around here stock huge piles of K.O.s prior to deer season and sell them for very little. At 75 yards they will shoot 1 ½” to 2” groups all day, which was unheard of when I started deer hunting. At 100 yards they usually print 3”-4” groups but the K.O., like any smoothbore slug, often loses stability somewhere between 75 and 100 yards and one may tumble far off target. Federal’s TruBall is another smoothbore slug I have had very good results with but it, too, goes subsonic somewhere past 75 yards and destabilizes.
Bottom line: out to 80 yards or so, the right slug in a smoothbore gun gives you more than enough accuracy and power for whitetails.
*some online readers may be surprised to learn that there is a print edition of Field & Stream. It actually predates this website by, oh, 100 years or so. It can be found in doctor’s offices everywhere.